FRIDAY 5 AM, 2ND UPDATE: I’ve learned that Jeff Robinov’s attorney Skip Brittenham officially notified Warner Bros on Thursday that it is in breach of the movie mogul’s contract, and he wants to negotiate his exit.
THURSDAY 6 PM UPDATED THROUGHOUT… EXCLUSIVE 2:45 PM: The destabilization of once rock-solid Warner Bros continues. I’ve learned that Jeff Robinov has decided to leave as Warner Brothers Pictures Group President after months of waiting in vain for Time Warner Jeff Bewkes and Warner Bros Chairman Kevin Tsujihara to offer him a new contract when his expires in December. Robinov is on vacation in New Mexico and this week enlisted both his attorney Skip Brittenham and his friend and former Warner Bros chairman Bob Daly to negotiate his exit. Robinov’s frustration follows Bewkes and Tsujihara placing him inside the ‘cone of silence’ in recent weeks ever since the home entertainment chief was appointed as the new Warner Bros CEO and soon to be chairman. No phone calls of congratulations came from Bewkes or Tsujihara to Robinov after last weekend’s record-setting global successful opening of Man Of Steel or any of the studio’s Summer 2013 big worldwide releases, The Great Gatsby and The Hangover Part III.
Witnesses tell me that on the LA to NY plane trip to the Superman premiere June 10th, Tsujihara sat for the five hours not saying a word to Robinov who was sitting opposite him. This cruel behavior was in full view of not only Robinov’s execs but also of the Man Of Steel filmmakers like Christopher Nolan whom Robinov had brought to the studio. I’m told that at the Red Carpet gala at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, which should have been his triumph, Robinov left demoralized after just 15 minutes. This, after he and Tsujihara used to be close friends who went on family vacations together. “I’m constantly being marginalized. My job is shrinking day-to-day,” Robinov confided to a pal the other day. “Kevin is starting to push me out by both the things he’s doing and the responsibilities he’s assuming. It’ll end up with everyone reporting to him. The result is that people at the studio are wondering how they can benefit from this or how they can not get hurt by this. Sitting around is not something I can do, or, by the end of the year, the studio will be in a massive mess.”
I’ve learned that the structure being contemplated for Warner Bros Pictures is not for any one person to replace Robinov, who was a rarity in recent Hollywood in that he did both the business and creative top job at a studio. Instead, his Warner Bros Pictures executives Sue Kroll, President of Worldwide Marketing; Dan Fellman, President of Domestic Distribution; and Greg Silverman, President of Production, would run the studio as a triumvirate under Tsujihara who will take over the business side even though he has no such movie experience. It is unclear if New Line’s Toby Emmerich will have any new role within this structure. Also unclear is how this affects what was supposed to be Kroll’s imminent promotion adding Worldwide Distribution to her duties, especially if Fellman retired when his contract is up in 18 months. Both Kroll and Emmerich separately and alone had been tipped for Robinov’s job in recent months. Both have denied this. Emmerich’s star began to fall after the last 3 of New Line’s 4 releases sank this spring like Jack the Giant Slayer and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone on top of last year’s Rock Of Ages.
Robinov is the second very successful Warner Bros mogul who shared power as a triumvirate with Tsujihara and now has been pushed to quit in anger and sorrow: Warner Bros Television topper Bruce Rosenblum also was a target of Tsujihara’s humiliating war of silence. Although Tsujihara lied to insiders and outsiders that Rosenblum was staying, he brutally shoved him out the door after 10 days of negotiations. Like Rosenblum, the biggest knock in the Hollywood community against Robinov was personality – in Jeff’s case, always mercurial, at times harsh, often asocial, but also insecure and even sweet when the occasion called for it. He has never been beloved, but then very few moguls are because the vast majority of their job consists of saying ‘no’ not ‘yes’ especially when making the business decisions.
For months now, Robinov has been enduring the “Are you being fired?” rumors running rampant around Hollywood as well as whispers about who might be replacing him. And, meanwhile, the media have been circling like vultures. This sort of treatment is not what Robinov or any mogul with his history of profits for the studio deserves. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hollywood always fires people in success. Robinov this year won the studio the Best Picture Oscar for Argo from Ben Affleck, a filmmaker he brought to Warner Bros Pictures along with Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Baz Luhrmann, Todd Phillips, Zack Snyder, to name just a few. And Robinov’s slate is having a banner global year.
To understand how Warner Bros Pictures filmmakers may feel about today’s developments, this may provide some intel. When rumors about Robinov being forced out first surfaced, I spoke to Ben Affleck to get his thoughts on what he called their “dream relationship” during and after The Town and Argo:
On the record. We have history. After Gone Baby Gone  was well regarded but didn’t make money. The phone was not ringing off the hook. but Jeff called. ‘I’m a fan. I loved the film. Let’s sit down and have coffee. I’d really like you to direct movies for us. What do you want to do.” I went from no scripts to 15 Warners’ scripts, he was giving them all to me. He was the only person at a studio doing that. I also have a great relationship with Sue Kroll. But with Jeff, I never hear from anybody to make changes. I’m not told, ‘It tested poorly. Fix it.’ He sticks with me through screenings. I needed $1 million for a couple of reshoots on The Town. ‘You’re the horse I bet on,’ he tells me. ‘I believe in filmmakers.’ It’s a dream relationship.
When George [Clooney] moved his deal out of Warner Bros, all the projects didn’t move with him. Jeff gave me the script for Argo after calling George and Grant [Heslov] to see how I’d hit off with them. I stayed on budget. But I always felt if I had a problem I could call Jeff. Argo was viewed as a very challenging movie itself, skewing older when the public wants a superhero movie. But those two guys – jeff and Sue – really found a way to sell the movie. Sue supported by Jeff was 100% on board. They’re almost a symbiotic relationship. It was obviously an incredible year but if they wouldn’t have bet on us, if they’d not spent a lot of money on us, we wouldn’t have won the Oscar. It was a wonderful experience and why I want to support Jeff.
I’ve seen Jeff’s sensibility change into his job, gracefully and gradually leading with a lot of authority. I have spoken with [Jeff] Bewkes and Kevin [Tsujihara] and Barry [Meyer] but not in great detail as things are evolving at the studio. I’ve kept abreast. I’ve talked about it to Jeff. He’s what I really care about. How we’re going to make it down the road or get along without him I don’t know. Jeff naturally was very disappointed when he didn’t get the top job. He and I have spent a lot of time cultivating this relationship and I never thought that would have culminated in this career high or the most incredible year of my life.
Again, on the record, I don’t know what I would do if Jeff weren’t there. I don’t know from my view anyone else there who knows how to make movies. I would like to support him. So many places are filled with frustrations and run by people who haven’t been sure-footed or have the right taste. Hopefully, it’s about taste. Not everybody has it. Picking Zack Snyder was not obvious. Being able to take risks and make decisions not supported by conventional wisdom. Studios have the power and don’t often cede the power to the director.”
I also received this on-the-record statement from Baz Luhrmann at the same time which was right before The Great Gatsby hit theaters:
Last year, when we were moving towards a Christmas release date for Gatsby, Jeff Robinov said to me, ‘Perhaps you’ll be able to make the release date. But will it be the movie that you want it to be? If you had more time to work on the visual effects and music, would you have a better chance of realizing your vision for the film?’ Jeff was resolute that the most important thing was for me to do my best possible work, and by moving ‘Gatsby’ to the summer, he gave me the time and resources to do it. He showed incredible leadership in not being concerned with the possible media controversy about moving the release date; his sole concern was that Gatsby be the best film that it could be. For which I’ll always be profoundly grateful.
But no Warner Bros Pictures film relationship is more important than with Christopher Nolan. According to several accounts, Robinov’s relationship with Nolan began right after Memento was released in March 2001. Within a month, Nolan’s agent Dan Aloni called Robinov and told him he should meet with the helmer. At first Nolan was going to direct Troy (released in 2004) but wasn’t feeling it. With that Robinov asked if there was anything else Nolan wanted to do – and learned that the director had always had an interest in Batman. At the time, the studio didn’t have a take on a reboot of its lucrative DC Comics franchise. But Nolan came in and brilliantly pitched Robinov who immediately set up a meeting with then studio chief Alan Horn who also bought into it. Horn greenlighted Batman Begins and the entire new trilogy, with Robinov’s full backing, off just Nolan’s pitch. For the latest Superman reboot, screenwriter David S. Goyer and Nolan came to Robinov with what’s now referred to as “an incredible take” on a Man Of Steel reimagining. “Great visual. Great aesthetic. A lot of confidence.” It was Nolan’s idea to have Zack Snyder direct it and, even though Snyder’s previous movies had underperformed at the box office, Robinov back up Nolan’s decision-making – a rarity in Hollywood. As a measure of his loyalty to Robinov, Nolan recently insisted that the studio be included in the deal for Interstellar at Paramount.